On January 9, Busboys and Poets (Takoma) hosted a conversation between the Saudi filmmaker Hamzah Jamjoom and John Hanshaw, Founder of the Washington Film Institute. Born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Hamzah Jamjoom is a writer, director, and actor currently based in Chicago. From a young age, Hamzah exposed himself to the art of storytelling and decided to study computer graphics animation. His first big break was the successful IMAX feature film titled Arabia 3D, where he was part of both the cast and the crew. As he began to acquire some recognition for his work through short films and music videos, he decided to use his position as a filmmaker and storyteller from the Arabic world, to subvert existing narratives surrounding the Middle East and the Islamic world and explore the various conflicts faced by the artist’s “ego”.
The main topic of last evening’s conversation was the artist’s ego, and the tendency of the artist to always want to present the best version of himself. Jamjoom explores the human ego through his more recent and upcoming artistic endeavors, particularly a sci-fi series on religion and the ego titled ‘Balance’ that he recently completed. He tackled a variety on questions from the audience towards the end of the conversation. These questions ranged from his own religious views to his experience working with Maher Zain, one of the most popular contemporary musicians of the Islamic world, who has previously worked with American pop artists such as Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. At a time when most of society is deeply polarized along religious and political lines, artists such as Hamzah Jamjoom are making a huge contribution towards achieving some sort of understanding and stability by portraying various religious and cultural backgrounds through alternative discourses that challenge negative stereotypes.
In order to cultivate empathy and cross-cultural understanding, it is of vital importance to continue engaging in dialogue with people holding religious and political views that are very different from our own.
BAU International University (BAUI) is offering scholarships to three students referred by HasNa. If you are finishing your undergraduate studies or have recently graduated from college, you might be eligible to apply for a scholarship at BAU International University in Washington, D.C. HasNa can recommend three students per academic year for BAUI’s EMBA program, which has concentrations in Entrepreneurship, Global Affairs, and International Law and Economics. All you need to do is contact HasNa, and we will tell you the requirements for receiving a recommendation letter from HasNa.
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For the first time this year, HasNa participated in the Turkish Festival organized annually by the DC chapter of the American Turkish Association. We are extremely grateful to Turkish Airlines for providing us with this opportunity, which turned out to be a very pleasant change from our everyday program-related activities! We had free Turkish Delight (known as lokum) at our booth, along with freshly printed postcards with photographs from our programs. But the biggest attraction was the HasNa peace tree, to which numerous people added their personal messages of peace to send out into the world. Amidst all the conflict and mistrust that plagues the world today, watching these people from diverse backgrounds come together and collectively express their wishes for a better, more harmonious world reaffirmed our faith in our mission. We hope to be able to return next year!
In many ways, intercultural exchange serves as a cushion or catalyst for peace. When two ethnic groups are in a state of conflict, there is a breakdown of communication between them. In such situations, inter-cultural activities provide them with a common space to meet, communicate, and interact. Communication includes both listening and expressing oneself so that the other can hear. Understanding is the first step towards developing empathy, and to be able to empathize with the other is a large step towards reconciliation.
Language is often considered to be one of the most tangible manifestations of culture. By speaking and understanding the language of the other, different ethnic groups are able to expose themselves to each other’s songs, theater, cinema, literature, folklore, and other cultural indicators. They are able to exchange ideas, and express their own feelings with greater ease.
Recognizing this unifying power of language, the NGO Support Center – one of HasNa’s local partners in Nicosia – will offer Turkish language lessons to Greek Cypriots starting from September 3rd, 2014 until May, 2015. Classes will take place every Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:30 PM for Greek-speaking students, and every Thursday, from 5 to 7 PM for English-speaking students. These language classes aim to prepare students for the European Language Framework examinations.
Is the goal of reconciliation merely to repair a relationship that has been damaged or broken, or should it also seek to ensure that there is no further escalation or outbreak of conflict in the future? How else can language skills help towards the mitigation of conflict? It’s an interesting thought, especially in the context of Nelson Mandela’s famous words:
‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’
HasNa’s third annual Happy Hour Fundraiser at Madam’s Organ went off without a hitch. The evening began at 5:00 and the bar was packed by 6:00. We were delighted to spend the evening enjoying great conversation, food, and drinks with everyone.
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This year we had four special guests at the event. The English teachers from HasNa’s English Training for English Teacher’s Program were here in Washington, DC studying at Georgetown University. They had a wonderful time at Madam’s Organ and expressed how impressed they were by Americans’ spirit of volunteerism.
Our supporters play an integral role in HasNa’s work. The money we raised will help us achieve HasNa’s mission to promote cross-cultural understanding and economic empowerment in culturally divided areas of the world.
We would like to thank all those who attended. And to those who didn’t—we hope to see you next time! We are already excited for next summer’s happy hour at Madam’s Organ.
By Alexsandra Fischer